The Dog Days of February: Sights and sounds from the 2017 Westminster Dog Show

NEW YORK CITY—Kent Boyles stood ready as Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show judge Richard Meen prepared to announce the winner of Best in Show. Boyles’s German shepherd Rumor had entered the event as the clear favorite, with more than 100 ribbons in her trophy case, so this coronation seemed almost a formality. Win or lose, she would retire afterward, but Boyles was pretty sure it would be win.

“The German sh—“ Meen began. Boyles took a step forward. “—orthaired pointer.”

As promised, Rumor retired to become a pet and a mom after the near miss in 2016. But when she hadn’t become pregnant by late in the year, Boyles thought twice about his decision. She enjoyed the events, after all. She still looked the part. So they returned to the sport in January, just in time for the ’17 edition of the show that had so disappointed them. And 12 months after that second place, they locked up first.

Boyles wasn’t the only one delighted by the win: The crowd at Madison Square Garden roared every time the jumbotron caught five-year-old Rumor, named for the 2011 Adele song “Rumour Has It.” (It’s been a good week for them both; Adele picked up wins in five categories, including Album of the Year, at the Grammys on Sunday.)

The reaction was rather different for year-old Chuckie, a Pekingese who instead inspired mostly fond laughter.

Chuckie’s exercise regimen consists of a daily walk to the mailbox, about 200 yards from his home outside Gettysburg, Penn., but during Best in Show judging, he couldn’t quite keep pace with the big dogs. While they all looped around the perimeter of the ring, he took a shorter path as the audience cheered him on.

Aftin, a two-year-old miniature poodle who was similarly dwarfed by much of the competition, made it most of the way around the ring.

She looked elegant—if not quite doglike—with her intricate cut, but handler Daniel Chavez insists she’s just a dog as soon as she’s out of the arena. “She’s always full of grass and leaves,” he says.

The one newly recognized dog to advance as far as Best in Group—the other two, the pumi and the sloughi, made it to Best of Breed—needs a slightly different beauty routine. “It takes as long,” says handler Pepe Anastas, “but it’s not really coat work.” Indeed, the biggest challenge for the owner of an American hairless terrier is actually keeping it from getting sunburned or frostbitten.

Two-year-old Kane lives in Florida, so he’s been able to build a base tan, but the cold weather of New York was a shock. Anastas dressed him in a red fleece onesie before taking him out into the 37-degree night.

Duffy, a four-year-old Norwegian elkhound, was rather more prepared for the weather but faced his own challenges. “He needs a ton of exercise,” says kennel manager Jennifer Reed.

Duffy and his team arrived from Carmel, Calif., on Friday, and spent the intervening days working out a creative solution for a dog that needs an hour of running a day but also has to keep clean and dry: an indoor track of sorts. A few times a day, they headed out into the hallway of the 25th floor of the Stewart Hotel in Midtown and let him fly.

Irish setter Adrian, the reserve best in show, is just naturally calm, says handler Adam Bernardin, although it’s fair to wonder if they rub off on each other. While the six-year-old dog nearly dozed off standing at her station between winning the sporting group and competing in Best in Show, Bernardin joked with reporters and bystanders. How does he stay so relaxed? “It’s just a dog show,” he says. “I’m not doing brain surgery.”

He has had a lot of opportunity to practice that attitude. He and his fiancée showed 18 dogs between them at Westminster.

It was a family affair for Susan DePew, handler of four-year-old Norwich terrier Tanner, as well. She showed Tanner’s mother before him, and both her daughters competed at Westminster this year, Dylan Kipp with a Doberman and Devon Kipp with a flatcoated retriever.

She didn’t push them into it, she swears. “In fact, I kind of wish they hadn’t,” she says. “It’s a hard lifestyle. It’s a 24/7 job and there’s so much travel. It’s just tough.”

Diego and Evelyn Garcia felt some of that difficulty. They have trained and handled four-year-old boxer Devlin since she was two, but this would be their last night together: She was due to return to her owner straight from Madison Square Garden.

Evelyn Garcia choked up thinking about the impending separation. “She sleeps with us,” she said sadly. But the Garcias will not be alone when they get home—they have four other dogs waiting patiently for them.

Soon Rumor, just the second German shepherd to win the top prize at Westminster, will be a pet too. Boyles promised that this was really it. No more comebacks. “She’s going to be relaxing for a while,” he beamed. 

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